Mary’s Little Lambs Earns Top State Quality Rating


Mary’s Little Lambs Childcare and Preschool has been named the first five-star Step Up To Quality (SUTQ) licensed family child care provider in the Mahoning Valley, recognizing their exceptional learning and development standards, staff qualifications, administrative practices, along with family and community partnerships. The rating is the highest possible by the Ohio Department of Education and Department of Job and Family Services, with standards based on national research leading to improved outcomes for children.

MaryBeth Bush launched Mary’s Little Lambs more than two decades ago after struggling to find adequate childcare for her own children. Today, she’s licensed for up to six children ranging from six weeks to 12 years old. Most have been with her for years, including younger siblings of children who have aged out of her care and, in some cases, the next generation of her past clients now grown with families of their own.

“I’m the oldest of eight children. We have three kids, with my youngest about to graduate from Champion High School. And we have eleven children on the childcare roster,” she said. “I’ve been taking care of infants for as long as I can remember, and love knowing we’ve made a difference in their lives.”

Children begin arriving at her home as early as 6:30 am. They usually enjoy time together each morning reading or creating arts and crafts, before taking part in science, math, large muscle, and other educational activities in the lower level learning center. After snacks, they may go outside to her playground, ride bikes in the driveway, create chalk art on the sidewalk, or play other games. Storytime follows lunch, and then an afternoon nap. Some days also include visits by Warren-Trumbull County Public Library staff and other activities led by a gym instructor. Parents begin picking up kids around 4:30 pm but she frequently remains open later to help working parents.

“But we never have the same day twice. Being a smaller provider means I can more easily adjust each day to what the kids need,” Bush said. “And since we have kids together of all ages, the younger children are helped by and learn from older children, including their own siblings. They are usually separated by age groups at larger childcare centers.” Bush provides a more personal touch, too, such as when she sends parents cell phone photos of their children at play.

In addition to running her business, Bush founded Helping Association for Professional Providers of Young Children (HAPPY) Homes Ohio Association, an official Ohio affiliate to National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). Happy Homes helps build better relationships among preschool organizations by sharing state certification, professional development, and potential funding information, as well as simply providing mentoring and moral support. The group has had as many as 50 current members, and collaborates with Trumbull County Jobs & Family Services, State Support Region 5, Child Care Connection, NAEYC (Ohio AEYC), NAFCC, as well as other public and private organizations with similar missions and goals.

“The nature of our work sometimes leaves individual providers in isolation,” explained MaryBeth. “HAPPY Homes brings everyone together each month not just for speakers and professional development but to also network with others who understand our business.”

These collaborations, along with her focus on safe and quality programming, led to Mary’s Little Lambs earning the highest State of Ohio quality rating for early learning and development programs. The measurement accounts for teacher training, development of school readiness skills, commitment to continuous improvement, and focus on family engagement.

“Their goal was to raise the quality bar. A lot of it we were already doing. We just needed to make a few small improvements and do a better job documenting it for the State,” said MaryBeth. “I knew we could do it.”

To learn more about and enroll in Mary Little Lamb’s Childcare and Preschool, call MaryBeth Bush at (330) 847-1957.

Ohio Needs Greater Investment in Quality Preschool

Preschool children in a classroom for story time.

Early education is vital to children’s development. The benefits are well known: they include better language, math, cognitive thinking, and social skills, and last well into school. Early care and education also strengthens the financial stability of families by enabling parents to work. Parents of young children often use preschool and childcare interchangeably. Good programs thus serve as both educational investments in the future, and community infrastructure today.

High quality preschool helps children get ready for school. Youngstown City Schools took a great step forward this past December by expanding their part-time preschool to a full day. Youngstown preschools are free, serve three-to-five-year-olds; and are top rated under the state’s Step Up To Quality program, with some classrooms still awaiting assessment.

Yet not all Valley communities offer free full-day preschools, and limited hours leave many families turning to childcare centers or homes. Public preschools in Trumbull County served only about 13 percent of eligible children; Mahoning County 18 percent. Warren City Schools earned high marks, offering both full and half day options for families. Center-based programs range in quality, and while some are excellent, they tend to be the ones with limited hours, wait-lists, and price tags too high for public childcare recipients. In-home childcares are most flexible, but with few participating in the Step Up To Quality program, and many foregoing licensure altogether, they lack oversight and educational value varies widely.

Too many Mahoning Valley children lack access to a safe, high-quality program. Finding one that both fosters learning and offers hours that let parents work is a special challenge. Communities throughout the Valley are making strides, but work is needed to boost quality across all preschool types. We also need to ensure access to all families by locating schools close to home, adding wraparound childcare, and investing adequate public resources.

Step Up To Quality is the state’s primary measure of program quality. The state rates centers, schools, and a handful of homes. Well-trained teachers, good curriculum, and small class sizes earn good ratings. To boost quality, the state mandated participation for public preschools last June and for centers receiving public funds by 2020.

Today, less than half of Mahoning Valley preschools participate in Step Up To Quality, and just 22 percent are considered “high quality,” with a 3+ star rating. More troubling, in health and safety inspections conducted through February 2016, fifteen of 34 Mahoning County centers had serious risk violations.

Yet just as the state pushes to mandate higher quality, low reimbursement rates are causing some centers to drop out of the program, still voluntary for now. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that the state pay a rate high enough to cover 75 percent of programs. Yet Ohio reimburses at a rate so low that less than a third of programs are affordable to families on subsidized care.

Childcare and preschool are too expensive for many families. For a family that lacks a public preschool or relies on a center or home to meet childcare needs, the median cost is $9,370 a year for a single child in Trumbull County, and $7,550 in Mahoning County, where families earn less: a fifth of the family budget in both cases.

These costs put preschool with childcare out of reach even for many middle-income families, leaving them to turn to public childcare assistance. There a complex web of rules threatens continued access. Families earning up to three times the poverty level can qualify, but only if they first received assistance when they were below 130 percent of poverty, and kept it without interruption as their incomes grew.

Not only do families struggle under the current funding model: programs do too. Staffing enough skilled, stable teachers so that young children get quality care is expensive. Stable relationships with their teachers are vital for children, especially those most at-risk due to poverty at home. Yet teacher turnover rates average 27 percent in private centers. Investment in staff makes a big difference: Head Start teachers earn 50 percent more nationwide, and have turnover rates of just ten percent. Center-based preschool teachers earn less than 97 percent of all Ohio workers. These teachers often struggle with poverty themselves.

Bridging the gap means deeper investments in childcare and preschool. Public and all-day preschools are a great step. Better infrastructure must be built to reach more kids, and a push – with funding – to bring all programs into the quality rating system must be made. Funding should be aligned for preschool and childcare programs, and the state must increase reimbursement levels. Governor Kasich’s proposed state budget raises spending by just 3.1 percent over the next two years, likely too little to keep pace with inflation. Teachers and communities are doing their best, and making great strides to bring preschool to all Mahoning Valley children. Now it’s time for the state to do its part too.

Social and Emotional Learning Skills Are Life Skills

01 SEL Class

Social and Emotional Learning for Life, the third in an ongoing educational workshop series hosted by We Are Warren and Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP), shared with area community and non-profit leaders the importance of teaching other adults and youth how to govern emotions and defuse conflict for educational and life-long success.

“Strong communication skills are at the heart of social and emotional learning strategies, and how we choose to use those skills is extremely important,” explained Jill Merolla, Warren City Schools SEL Director, as well as Supervisor of Community Outreach & Grant Development. “Respect and peaceful resolution ensure our students remain on task, improve performance, and maintain good behaviors.”

Social and Emotional Learning involves teaching and facilitating skills that students and adults need to be successful at home, at school, and in the workplace. When students and adults have social and emotional skills they are self and socially aware, and have the ability to manage themselves both independently and while interacting with others. They can listen to perspectives of others, use positive communication, be aware of cultural issues and differences, set and achieve goals, and take personal responsibility for they learning.

Future educational workshops will be held this fall on topics determined by series participants. Write to with a subject line including Educational Series for more information visit online at

Success Starts in Math Class

Large diverse group of students studying together in library

Math is the great equalizer. Math offers equalization in ways that additional money or other resources simply cannot. Even more than a child’s demographic or gender, math scores better predict the likelihood a student will one day reach college and graduate into a successful career beyond. But before we jump into data crunching, let’s focus on why any of this matters.

It is here that parents and businesses can have the biggest impact on fostering what will ultimately be a stronger, more capable, and more intelligent future workforce. Parents and corporations have the pivotal opportunity to ensure their legislators and school administrators advance a strong math curriculum in all public schools. Right now, that critical math curriculum is all too often missing. In fact, it is sorely lacking precisely where it is needed most. This disparity directly hinders our children’s growth.

Research shows that not all students receive the same math education. The classic Adelman study shows that public schools with predominantly minority demographics have significantly lower math standards, fewer classes, and fewer advancement opportunities compared to schools with predominantly white and higher economic class demographics. This is immensely detrimental to our children’s growth because, as the Adelman study concludes, “the highest level of mathematics reached in high school continues to be a key marker in precollegiate momentum, with the tipping point of momentum toward a bachelor’s degree now firmly above Algebra 2.”

Knowing this, what does it mean when we continue to neglect math for children of minority backgrounds? The facts go on to show, for example, that “Latino students are far less likely to attend high schools that offer trigonometry (let alone calculus) than white or Asian students.” Just as unfortunate, students from lower socio-economic classes experience similar disadvantages in their access to math curriculum.

For example, Greg Duncan, a renowned professor of education at the University of California Irvine, conducted a landmark study on the role math plays in childhood development. Duncan concluded that while our emphasis for young children has historically revolved around reading and behavior, we must not ignore math going forward. He found that elementary math skills are more important than any other subject in predicting a child’s long-term success.

Amazingly, a child’s kindergarten math scores are a better predictor of his or her third-grade math and reading scores, than a child’s kindergarten reading scores. As the most accurate predictor of a child’s long-term success, math best prepares and develops a child’s mind to accept, analyze and execute complex ideas. But this is only part of the equation.

If we believe that our children are our future, their mathematical blueprint must then be drawn and secured early enough for them to benefit from it. Another study known as “The Forgotten Middle” reveals eighth grade as the ‘deadline’ that most accurately predicts a child’s success in college and beyond. In other words, if a child has received the relevant math education and training by eighth grade, two things become much more likely. First, that child will have a higher likelihood of going to college. And second, that child will likely be more successful in high school, college, and careers beyond.

Math can significantly close the gap between a wealthy white student and an underprivileged black or Hispanic student. Math can connect all our children to new opportunities never before made available to them. Math provides a blueprint for both aspiring and established businesses alike to recruit new and diverse talent primed for success. An effective education in math is the vehicle that will transform the increasingly diverse talent pool that comprises America’s student body into consistent candidates for successful future companies.

Written by Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (@EducationIQ), as guest columnist for Forbes Magazine, May 8, 2015.


Building Strengths Overcomes Trauma, Cultivates Success

Trauma Class

Community and non-profit leaders from local school districts, area churches, child care providers, and other organizations explored how to identify and emphasize personal strengths, relationships, and crucial opportunities to help young people succeed during today’s Building Resilience to Overcome Trauma workshop, the second of an ongoing educational series hosted by We Are Warren and Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP).


“Anyone can have a powerful impact on children’s behavior,” said Sarah Braun, EOEP Network Action Team Manager and workshop facilitator. “Helping them develop strengths – or build assets – is relatively easy. There are plenty of opportunities every day to engage, encourage, and empower children.”


From her extensive experience clinically supporting children in a variety of professional and academic settings, Braun shared with workshop participants a strengths-based resiliency framework for healthy youth development used to assess and address the potential effects of trauma on children’s’ attendance, behavior, relationships, and performance. They learned how to build developmental assets, spread across eight broad areas of human development, in children at home, in schools, in their neighborhood, and across the community. The workshop also explored how caregivers and instructors can maintain their own self-care to avoid compassion fatigue and secondary trauma.


The next session in the series, Social and Emotional Learning for Life, will teach leaders strategies for helping youth recognize and manage emotions, develop care and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively. The ability to govern emotions and defuse conflict then allows children to remain on task, increases good behavior, and improves performance.


Jill Merolla, Warren City Schools Supervisor of Community Outreach & Grant Development, will lead the April 11 session, also to be held 10 am – 1 pm at Warren City Schools Administration Building. She provides the district with immediate crisis management and support, along with managing counseling, family coordinators, and community liaisons.


Future educational sessions will be held this summer on topics determined by series participants. Write to with a subject line including Educational Series for more information, or register online at

Trauma Resilience and Social, Emotional Learning Classes Next for WAW, EOEP Education Series

Young, serious African American woman (19 years) standing outside building.

We are Warren and Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP) announced today the second and third sessions in their continuing education series for community and non-profit leaders. The initial session on February 21 shared ways to add engaging, entertaining, district-aligned mathematics curriculum into existing student after-school programs.

The next session, Building Resilience to Overcome Trauma, will empower adults to assess and address the potential effects of trauma on children’s’ attendance, behavior, relationships, and performance. Anyone working with young people – child care providers, educators, youth leaders, coaches, mentors, and more – can benefit from using this strengths-based resiliency framework for healthy youth development, while also learning how to maintain their own self-care to avoid compassion fatigue and secondary trauma.

The March 28 session, held 10 am – 1 pm at Warren City Schools Administration Building, will be facilitated by Sarah Braun, EOEP Network Action Team Manager. She has extensive experience clinically supporting children in a variety of professional and academic settings, serves as an adjunct professor with the Department of Social Work at Youngstown State University, and holds a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University and Bachelor of Arts in Community Health and Sociology from Brown University.

The third session, Social and Emotional Learning for Life, will teach leaders strategies for helping youth recognize and manage emotions, develop care and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively. The ability to govern emotions and defuse conflict then allows children to remain on task, increases good behavior, and improves performance.

Jill Merolla, Warren City Schools Supervisor of Community Outreach & Grant Development, will lead the April 11 session, also to be held 10 am – 1 pm at Warren City Schools Administration Building. She provides the district with immediate crisis management and support, along with managing counseling, family coordinators, and community liaisons.

Future educational sessions will be held this summer on topics determined by series participants. Write to with a subject line including Educational Series for more information, or register online at

Skills Summary Smooths Transition to Kindergarten

01 Instruct EOEP

In partnership with Child Care Connection, Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP) is expanding efforts to ensure students smooth transition from preschool to kindergarten, providing training today at Kent State University at Trumbull for childcare teachers and administrators alongside their colleagues from area school districts.

EOEP Early Childhood Network Action Team launched the Preschool Transition Skills Summary (PTSS) program late in the 2015-2016 academic year, engaging eleven preschools with other community partners. Transition skills forms were completed for nearly 100 students, helping preschool staff and parents transfer information about individual student’s strengths and opportunities for improvement to kindergarten teachers and elementary school administrators. Aligned with Ohio’s Early Learning and Development standards, the PTSS form identifies students as on track, developing, or beginning to develop skills and strengths in language and literacy, social emotional, cognition general knowledge, math, social studies, science, physical well-being (hyphen?) and motor development, and approaches toward learning.

The training expands the PTSS program to reach even more students in more schools as they conclude the 2016-2017 and begin the 2017-2018 academic years. Thanks to local, state, and national program support, EOEP is broadening its collaborations with Child Care Connection, State Support Team Region 5, and other community partners to offer joint preschool and kindergarten teacher training, peer teacher mentoring, and related family engagement activities during the upcoming school year.

“By encouraging families to read with young children, aligning education strategies, and engaging families in meaningful district-wide activities, we work to have students who perform better in school and on standardized tests,” said Stephanie Shaw, EOEP Executive Director. “Our goal is to have families become more active partners with local preschools, school districts, and community service organizations to ensure student success, cradle to career.”

Read With Your Family Today

Students reading books in the library.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” writes Dr. Seuss, American author Theodor Seuss Geisel, in his book I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!. Seuss shares in this one of his more than 60 books not only how reading is fun but is also a useful tool to acquire knowledge.

The National Education Association has adopted Dr. Seuss’ birth date of March 2 for the largest reading party on the planet, Read Across America. Every year, the annual reading motivation and awareness program calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. They do so with family literacy events, design contests, pajama and pillow days, and even more creative initiatives and activities, encouraging families to continue reading all 365 days of the year. This program also aligns with National Reading Group Month, an initiative of the Women’s National Book Association to promote literacy and a love of reading during the month of March.

Motivating families to read is important. Reading is not only a fun and imaginative activity for children, opening doors to new worlds, but builds their language and communications skills, too. Reading assists younger readers in recognizing letters and sounds. It helps them begin identifying unfamiliar words from the surrounding context of other known words. Older readers learn to understand sentence structure as well as the organization structure of a written work. Reading helps them grasp ideas, understand inferences, and comprehend complex discussions. Reading at home may also influence higher math scores later in school, according to an Educational Testing Services study!

In addition to reading at home, some children enjoy quality preschool programs, gaining necessary skills to succeed in kindergarten. Yet many, especially those from low-income or troubled homes, have not been given these quality early literacy experiences. While students have widely varying early childhood experiences, it is critical they learn to read at an early age as proficiency by third grade is a crucial marker in a child’s educational development. Third graders who are not proficient readers are four times more likely than their peers to drop out before finishing high school, according to an Annie E. Casey Foundation study. State of Ohio research also shows students who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are five times more successful in achieving college and career readiness as their non-proficient peers.

The Ohio Department of Education is attempting to combat this challenge through the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. The program measures children’s reading skills at the beginning of kindergarten, first and second grades, then provides individualized services, such as tutoring, tailored reading and vocabulary instruction, to ensure they can pass a state reading assessment before being promoted to fourth grade.

It’s never too early to start children reading. Helping improve even early skills, through activities such as letter naming and sounds, rhyming and sing-along games, and repetitive readings can jumpstart a child’s developmental journey. And reading for and with older children will certainly help them in school as well as later in life. So, join us in celebrating Read Across America and National Reading Group Month by reading some books with your family today!

Math Matters in After-School Programs

Small children at a daycare center.

We are Warren and Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP) launched today a new four-part educational series for community and non-profit organization leaders to develop the necessary skills, process, and resources to adapt and thrive in a new global environment. The first session shared ways to add engaging, entertaining, district-aligned mathematics curriculum into existing student after-school programs.

“There are so many ways to engage youth in fun math activities, both in and out of school,” explained Stephanie Shaw, EOEP Executive Director. “These activities often draw them toward math instead of pushing them away. It also helps them learn to solve problems and reason logically, improving their learning and performance.”

The first session was facilitated by Dr. Kim Yoak in the Warren City Schools Board of Education offices. Dr. Yoak spent a decade as a K-12 mathematics consultant for Stow-Munroe Falls City School District, and is now an independent specialist working with the Warren City School District and across Ohio, focusing on empowering students and educators with deep learning experiences in mathematics.

Participants from the City of Warren, local school districts, area churches, and other non-profit organizations learned how to encourage after-school program students into a “growth mindset,” praising their math efforts as well as achievements. They discussed in single large and then smaller groups how math is about creativity, connections, and communicating, where questions are really important and mistakes are valuable opportunities for them and their classmates. The group also reviewed how math is more about learning then performing, and depth of understanding is more critical than swift completion.

In addition, the class considered eight standards for mathematical practice from the Common Core State Standards. In addition, Corrie Adams of The Raymond John Wean Foundation shared with participants’ valuable information and examples of the Foundation’s Educational Opportunity strategic priority. The Foundation prioritizes systematic change initiatives supporting Warren and Youngstown City School students’ academic success, primarily in early childhood readiness and access, attainment of skills that improve student outcomes, and readiness, access, and completion of postsecondary education and job training. This educational series was designed to support the alignment of the Foundation’s grantees with the work that takes place in local school districts.

Future educational series sessions will focus on social emotional learning, capacity building, and other topics will be held during winter and spring. Interested community leaders can find out more by writing to with a subject line including Educational Series.

Summer Melt Texts Bridge Gaps

Summer Melt Ed

Many local students work hard to become the first member of their family to apply for and be accepted to college, thanks to their teachers, coaches, counselors, and other administrators. But after graduation, much of this support system is gone and those that remain – friends, siblings, and parents – may not know how to help. College-bound students can become overwhelmed with all the required tasks for admission; logging into new online portals, submitting financial aid paperwork, applying for housing, taking placement exams, scheduling classes, and attending orientation, among others. Often, they’re also juggling these tasks with work responsibilities, so by August, they may have ignored and even forgotten college aspirations all together and instead fall into what may be low wage, uninspiring, dead-end jobs.

In our target districts, less than half of Mahoning Valley seniors enter college within two years of graduating high school. Now many, according to Ohio Department of Education, take the ACT, complete their FASFA, and enroll in college. But many never make it to the first day of class. Even fewer complete the first semester, even less their first year, and only a fraction graduate with a college degree.

Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP) Postsecondary and Career Readiness Network Action Team, however, is utilizing proven methods to halt Summer Melt, the term coined nationally representing students’ slippery slope away from college. EOEP has brought together Campbell, Warren, and Youngstown school district officials alongside Youngstown State University, Kent State University Trumbull, Eastern Gateway Community College, Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority and Mahoning Valley College Access Program representatives to address the problem.

They have identified, on average, about 20 percent of local students in our target districts take the necessary steps to attend college but do not matriculate the fall following graduation. One study, from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, reports even worse statistics, with up to 40 percent of low-income students nationally never making it to college the fall following graduation. This may be due to a variety of social, financial, and academic issues.

EOEP began working to increase area matriculation rates and identifying related obstacles during the 3-month launch of the Summer Melt program last academic year. Nearly 80 area families enrolled and began receiving text messages through Signal Vine software to learn more about general college enrollment, financial aid, registration, and orientation, as well as resources specific to local individual institutions. At no charge, these families received about two informational and reminder texts each week, with nearly 30 percent of program participants texting back to ask clarifying questions and receive personalized support. National research of similar texting programs has shown they significantly increase college matriculation rates, ensuring students complete all requirements in an accurate and timely manner, and have increased college enrollment up to nearly 40 percent.

In its first year, EOEP Summer Melt bridged a few gaps for some struggling students. One young man, for example, had applied for but thought he was denied entry into the selective Youngstown State University Summer Bridge program. After inquiring about it through a Summer Melt text, we found there had simply been a miscommunication between YSU and the student, then helped arrange for his program interview. The student was subsequently accepted into the Summer Bridge, and this past fall successfully completed his first semester of college.

Another young woman had her heart set on attending YSU but gave up hope after failing to achieve the minimum ACT score. She was lost about her next step after high school until we encouraged her to research Eastern Gateway Community College and Kent State University Trumbull. We made her aware their affordable coursework credits would directly transfer, and help her qualify, for the YSU program she wanted. EOEP put her in touch with the right Admissions people, helped her enroll, and now, after this personal one-on-one attention, she too has completed her first semester of college at Eastern Gateway Community College!

Now in its second academic year, EOEP is offering the successful Summer Melt program to students and their families in Campbell, Warren, and Youngstown school districts. Families may register for the program at It is critical we all encourage students starting down the path to postsecondary education to successfully reach their destination.

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